Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The romance between Rachel and Cates complicates Rachel’s personal development and frames the main conflict of the play—fundamentalism versus freedom of thought—in a personal light. The playwrights portray Reverend Brown, Rachel’s father and the community’s religious leader, as cruel and heartless. The preacher not only frightens Rachel from a young age but also publicly damns her soul for supporting Cates. Meanwhile, Cates, who teaches evolution to his students and has doubts about religion, stands in bold opposition to Rachel’s father and his views. These two characters test Rachel’s loyalties throughout the play. Rachel’s separation from her father and allegiance with Cates at the end of the trial shows how she resolves this conflict on a personal level, making a story about the politics of ideas a love story as well.
The playwrights draw on a traditional dramatic device, the chorus, to underscore the main themes of Inherit the Wind. The chorus, which has its origins in ancient Greek theater, is a group of characters who deliver lines—typically sung in verse—that comment on the action of the play and predict the future. In Inherit the Wind, the playwrights consolidate this traditional chorus into a single chorus character, the Baltimore Herald reporter E. K. Hornbeck. Hornbeck’s lines appear in poetic form, and his musings, which originally seem extreme, eventually prove accurate and insightful. His presence also highlights the differences between North and South as well as between urban and rural environments. Hornbeck stands in for the real-life Baltimore journalist H. L. Mencken, one of the most popular journalists in American history, whose coverage of the Scopes Monkey Trial electrified the nation.
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